U.S. air fleet rips Truk; Tokyo reports invasion (2-18-44)

The Pittsburgh Press (February 18, 1944)

Jap warships, defenses blasted

Nimitz’s bombers cut trail of destruction across Pacific base
By William F. Tyree, United Press staff writer

Under attack by U.S. fleet, Truk, the Japanese “Pearl Harbor,” is the focal point for enemy defenses in the Pacific. Loss of the big naval base would leave the Japs in the Southwest Pacific in a precarious position, ripe for attack by Allied forces.

Pearl Harbor, Hawaii –
One of the greatest carrier task forces ever assembled in any ocean was believed today to have blasted a trail of sinking ships, wrecked planes and devastated shore installations through Truk, Japan’s “Pearl Harbor,” in a mighty assault only a little more than 2,000 miles south of Tokyo.

The task force resumed radio silence after flashing word that it had begun the assault Wednesday dawn, but Adm. Chester W. Nimitz’s announcement that “several hundred” dive bombers, torpedo bombers and fighters were participating was taken as a certain indication that heavy damage was inflicted on Japan’s biggest base outside home waters.

Reconnaissance photographs taken by two Marine Liberator bombers on Feb. 4 in the first Allied flight ever made over Truk showed at least 25 warships, including two aircraft carriers, numerous lighter warships and supply ships, in the huge lagoon.

The Tokyo radio was quoted by the U.S. Foreign Broadcast Intelligence Service as saying that powerful U.S. “mechanized units” and air forces were attacking Truk and “fighting with our troops is now going on.”

The Tokyo report of the landing on Truk, unconfirmed in U.S. official quarters, was included in broadcasts which hinted that the Jap fleet was not ready to take up the U.S. challenge in the heart of the Carolines.

Though Adm. Nimitz’s communiqué referred only to the “commencement” of the attack, there was no confirmation that it continued for more than one day at the longest. It was also doubted here that the bombing and strafing raids were supplemented by any naval bombardment, since such action would bring the task force dangerously close to coastal batteries.

The assault touched off speculation as to whether an attempt to seize Truk was contemplated, but there was no information here, official or otherwise, as to whether the raid was a prelude to invasion.

The huge U.S. task force under Adm. Raymond A. Spruance, under whose command Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshalls was wrested from the Japs nearly two weeks ago, penetrated 3,200 miles west of Pearl Harbor into the heart of Japan’s mandated Caroline Islands for the attack.

It carried the war to a base Japan long has considered impregnable, 2,100 miles east of Manila and 940 miles west of the nearest American base at newly-conquered Kwajalein.

Carrier task forces normally approach within 100 miles and often much closer before launching their planes. Their targets at Truk lay on a group of 70 islands protected by a great encircling reef with a radius of 30 miles, inside of which the whole Jap fleet could anchor.

The photographs brought back by the two Marine Liberators that flew 2,000 miles over enemy waters from a South Pacific base showed huge ship concentrations in the lagoon, one island almost literally covered with airfields, heavy coastal guns on all five major islands and palatial living quarters.

Capt. James Q. Yawn of Bogue Chitto, Mississippi, pilot of one of the Liberators, indicated that even more than the 25 ships reported by official sources were anchored at Truk.

He said:

I counted 25 warships through one small gap in the clouds. It looked like a whole Japanese fleet was down there and I saw only a part of one of the anchorages.

The first Liberator, piloted by Maj. James R. Christensen of Salt Lake City, encountered only a few erratic bursts of anti-aircraft fire, but the second ran a gantlet of shells thrown up by Jap guns ashore and on warships. Neither was damaged, however.

News of the attack was received jubilantly in Hawaii, where the hope was expressed that the task force caught a big Jap fleet at anchor so that the score might be evened for the enemy’s sneak blow at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

Truk invaded, Tokyo reports

U.S. mechanized units in action, Japs say
By the United Press

Roosevelt in dark on landing report

Washington (UP) –
President Roosevelt said today that he didn’t know anything about Jap reports which indicated that U.S. forces have landed on Truk.

He told his radio and press conference that he had no late information on the powerful U.S. task forces’ attack on the Jap bastion.

Japan reported today that powerful U.S. “mechanized units” as well as air forces had attacked Truk and that “fighting with our troops is now going on,” according to the U.S. Foreign Broadcast Intelligence Service.

There was no confirmation in official U.S. sources of the clear enemy implication that U.S. forces had landed on Truk, the Jap “Pearl Harbor” of the Pacific. Neither the Army nor Navy would comment.

Report troops engaged

The United Press recorded an Imperial Headquarters announcement broadcast from Tokyo which said that Jap “Army and Navy units” were engaged in fierce fighting against the Americans in the Truk area.

It said:

Since Tuesday morning (Tokyo Time), a powerful enemy task force was repeatedly carrying out bombing attacks upon Truk Island. Intercepting this enemy force, the Imperial Army and Navy units of the same area were engaged in fierce fighting.

Japs belittle attack

London newspapers simultaneously quoted a Jap communiqué as saying that Americans had landed on Truk under cover of a smashing assault by carrier-based planes.

Dōmei, the official Jap news agency, in a broadcast recorded at 6:30 a.m. ET by the U.S. Foreign Broadcast Intelligence Service, also said:

This present attack by the enemy is not the real thing, and it seems that it does not go beyond the scope of a strong reconnaissance.

Nimitz silent

Adm. Chester W. Nimitz’s Pacific Fleet headquarters had been silent on the Truk attack since 4:30 p.m. yesterday when a short communiqué announced that it was launched at dawn Wednesday.

Dōmei, hinting that the Jap fleet was not ready to take up the challenged carried to the heart of the Carolines, said that:

The main force of our invincible Navy is biding its time until the very end.

In the face of the admission of unwillingness on the part of their navy to act now against the American push toward Tokyo, the Japs said that it “is now looking for the golden opportunity to destroy the enemy at one stroke.”

Report fierce fighting

The London versions of the Jap communiqué said that when the Americans attacked Truk, defending “troops” engaged them at once, and “fierce fighting is now going on between our forces and the enemy.”

The U.S. Foreign Broadcast Intelligence Service said that it recorded a Dōmei broadcast of what appeared to be a summary of the same communiqué at 3:40 a.m. ET. The text was as follows:

Tokyo, Japan –
Imperial Headquarters, in a communiqué issued at 4:00 p.m., revealed that a formation of carrier-based planes belonging to an enemy task force raided our position in the Truk Islands since yesterday morning. The announcement added that fierce fighting is now going on between our forces and the enemy.

The conflict in reports over the full nature of the U.S. assault on Truk roughly paralleled that which prevailed at the time of the U.S. landings on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshalls, 940 miles to the east, two weeks ago. At that time, too, enemy reports differed as to whether a landing had been made.

If U.S. troops have swarmed ashore in the Truk Islands, they have tackled Japan’s strongest base outside home waters and the main obstacle in the transpacific invasion route to Tokyo, 2,100 miles to the north.

Japan has been fortifying the Truk Islands in the heart of the mandated Carolines for more than 20 years. Allied planes made their first reconnaissance flight over the stronghold Feb. 4.

The reef-enclosed Truk Lagoon could anchor the whole Jap fleet and the network of airfields on the various islands was believed the most highly developed of any in Jap-controlled waters in the Pacific.

The U.S. Pacific Fleet has been attempting to draw the Jap fleet into battle for a year or more and has massed the largest concentration of warships in history in the Pacific for a showdown battle, but the enemy has shown no taste for battle since the series of engagements in the Solomons in 1942.

The size of the U.S. carrier force was not disclosed, but it may have been part or all of the naval escort – described as the largest ever massed in any ocean – that covered the invasion of Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshalls more than two weeks ago. In addition to aircraft carriers, the raiding force at Truk presumably included cruisers, destroyers and possibly battleships.

U.S. government monitors said Jap broadcasts made no mention of the attack until Dōmei carried its version of the Imperial Headquarters communiqué at 3:40 a.m. ET, some 11 hours after Pearl Harbor announced the start of the assault.

At 4:00 a.m., government monitors said, Tokyo domestic broadcasts informed the Japanese people that Truk was under attack.

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